How do you know when they need to go? (Elimination communication cues and signals)

Just like when your baby is hungry, tired or just needs a cuddle, you can learn to recognise when your baby needs to eliminate. Young babies (under 3 months) often give the strongest elimination communication cues and signals, but these can change over time. Some babies give very subtle signals, in which case the timing method may be most useful. Learn about signals and timing here.

Common signals

Young babies:

Crying , fussing, arching away during feeding, squealing, squirming, going still / staring into space, pulling your hair/grabbing at you, slapping themselves on the body, farting, bearing down.

Older babies and toddlers:

Pulling on your clothes, leg, crawling towards you as if to be picked up, seeking privacy, crotch grabbing, ‘dancing’ e.g. shifting weight one foot to another, squirming in your lap, stopping playing, sitting or crouching down, playing near or pointing and going towards toilet/potty, pulling on nappy/trousers/skirt/pants, farting, bearing down (the poo face).

How to spot your baby’s cues

Baby potty trainingThe best way to learn your babies signals or “cues” is to do some dedicated observation time. This means time without a nappy. You can record when your baby eliminates, and any signs they gave leading ups to that point that they would do it. You can then use this as a foundation for knowing when to hold your baby on a potty instead, and save the nappy.

Some cues are obvious, others are subtle. Sometimes they can come and go, or disappear altogether. This is norma. lThe younger a baby is, the stronger the signal usually is, but this can change as they develop, or if they have been using nappies for a long time (especially disposables which can dull the senses over time). Again, this is where a little nappy free time will help you connect with what your baby might be telling you. If after trying this, you are still not confident in knowing when your baby will eliminate, you can use the timing method. In fact, using a combination of signals and timing is works very well.

Understanding and using timing to your advantage

Babies have natural rhythms which you can learn, and use to your advantage. With some observation time, you can learn the likely times when your baby will go. These include burping, after a feed, on waking, when changing their nappy, before a bath. Babies often go when you take the nappy off so this is a great time to try. Remember, that like cues, frequency of elimination can change over time. For example,  young babies can go very frequently –  even every 10 minutes, and the time between eliminations usually increases as they grow. You will need to re-learn your babies natural timing as they grow and develop.

A little nappy free time, or close observation of your baby can help you become familiar with your baby’s timings. Once you understand how frequently they go, you can be ready with a potty to catch the next one when you think it’s coming.

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Learn more about how to help your baby communicate with baby sign language